LMU men's soccer is back and ready to kick off the new season. The team returns after more than a whole year off from regular season play as the pandemic shut down their 2020 season.
Before COVID-19 shut down the 2020 spring sports season, fans and supporters may remember the successful 2019 campaign the team came off of in which they made it to the first round of the NCAA tournament. Though the season ended with a disappointing loss that year, it was definitely one to remember as it was the Lions' first tournament appearance since 2013.
With high expectations every year, the goal for head coach Paul Krumpe and the coaching staff is to always put the team in a position to win come playoff time. Nonetheless, this season appears to be another exciting one in which the Lions have a lot going in their favor.
In a recent WCC Preseason Coaches Poll, the Lions ranked first among eight teams included in the conference. But aside from their high expectations and projections, LMU is bringing back an impressive roster. Perhaps their most notable player is veteran Gerardo Lopez, who was nominated for the Mac Hermann Award, an award for the best in men's soccer. He became just the second player in LMU men's soccer history to be put on that list. He joins his two other teammates, Bastien Oberli and Noel Caliskan, for All-WCC honors.
Lopez didn’t hold back in relishing the achievement ahead of his last year at LMU.
“It's a special accomplishment for me,” Lopez said. “I set personal goals and it motivates me to do better, and obviously I have ambitions to go play in the next level so it just keeps me motivated every day.”
Motivation has been key in returning from such a long time off, because it's no secret that players can become complacent and unmotivated when they aren’t playing their respective sport religiously. However, a common theme that has been preached from the coaching staff this season is that tomorrow is not guaranteed. With that statement, Krumpe feels the motivation of his team has never been higher.
“I think with that reason alone, they are working extra hard because they appreciate the fact that they got an opportunity to play soccer this year,” Krumpe said. “One of the conferences we play against regularly in the Big West canceled their season. So we are really only one of three conferences on the West Coast that are actually playing men's soccer. So I think the guys aren’t backing down and playing less hard; they are appreciating where they are and playing harder than ever."
Though projections and predictions are nice, it doesn’t exactly measure the overall team's success. Players can get injured and unexpected things can happen, especially now playing during the COVID-19 era. The team's first expected scrimmage was canceled due to COVID-19-related issues.
The team was ready to go and mentally prepared but then found out they had to wait another week to play. Nothing about the upcoming season can be taken for granted as it can be taken away just as fast again.
With uncertainty looming in the air from day to day, the team remains focused on their goals and hopes to achieve big things -- permitted they are given the green light to continue playing.
“We finished second in the conference last year, so our biggest goal is to win the WCC,” Krumpe said. "We did it twice in the previous decade: 2010 and 2013. I know this is 2021, but we are looking at this as the new decade in place of the 2020 season we didn’t get to play in the fall. We want to make it to the NCAA tournament and we want to go further than we did last year and get past the first round.”
With the season already underway, two of their first scrimmages against Cal Baptist and Westmont College have unfortunately already been canceled. The team will look forward to their first real game of the season where they will host UCLA at Sullivan field on Feb. 14.
In two weeks, the team will begin their conference quest to live up to their No. 1 ranking and prove that they have what it takes to win it all and make a deep run in the tournament. But for now, we can just wait and marvel at the fact that LMU men's soccer is heading in as favorites with a stacked roster and chip on its shoulder.